Madhavrao Scindia symbolised unity, progress and probity in public life

Lalit Shastri

Photo: Illustrating an article by Lalit Shastri, published in The Hindu on Sunday, 30 May 1993

The Dabra spirit built by Madhavrao Scindia had gone a long way in building a cohesive and united campaign for the 1993 Assembly election resulting in Congress party’s victory against the BJP and its return to power in Madhya Pradesh after a gap of three-and-half years

In a rare bid to display solidarity, prominent Congress leaders, including the Union Ministers from Madhya Pradesh, had shared a common platform and jointly addressed a large public meeting at Dabra in the Gwalior region on May 19, 1993. This exercise was held at the initiative of senior Congress leader late Madhavrao Scindia. It was a significant step towards building unity in the faction-ridden Madhya Pradesh unit of Congress party ahead of the crucial general election to the State Assembly later that year.

The 1993 State Assembly election was significant as it was being held a year after the imposition of President’s rule with the dismissal of the Sunderlal Patwa led State BJP government in the wake of the post-Ayodhya riots in December 1992.

The Dabra spirit built by Scindia had gone a long way in building a cohesive and united campaign for the 1993 Assembly election resulting in Congress party’s victory against the BJP and its return to power in Madhya Pradesh after a gap of three-and-half years (BJP rule from 5 March 1990 to 15 December 1992 and one year of President’s Rule thereafter).

Scindia, will always be remembered for his inherent devotion to the national cause and common good. His tenure as Union Minister for Railways (1986-89), Civil Aviation and Tourism (1991-93) and Minister for Human Resource Development (1995-96) will always be remembered for a new work culture that was not only forward looking and development oriented keeping pace with the global scenario but also for respect of merit in administration and ensured transprancy and accountability. His untimely demise in a plane crash on the outskirts of Mainpuri district of Uttar Pradesh on 30 September 2001, has been a great loss to the nation and also to his party, which is now the ruling party in Madhya Pradesh and the main Opposition at the Centre.

The author with Madhavrao Scindia

I had a special bond with Scindia. It transcended barriers and emanated from mutual respect and commitment for common good, which he wanted to ensure through clean politics and I through the highest tradition of journalism.

On one occasion, while covering the elections, I was to be on Scindia’s campaign trail for a day. I had talked to him before my departure from Bhopal and had conveyed him my plan that I would be meeting him on arrival at Gwalior and after covering his election meeting at Laxmiganj, we were to take off together in his helicopter from Jai Vilas Palace for his campaign in neghbouring districts.

My train had reached Gwalior a bit late and one had to rush straight to Laxmiganj in the heart of the city, where I found that Scindia was about to conclude his speech. One was at the opposite end of the stage. There was heavy deployment of police and the venue was packed with people. I was naturally tense and wondering how to convey the message that I was there. Before I could even think of a solution, Scindia announced before leaving the podium: “If Mr. Lalit Shastri of the Hindu is there, the Police should help and escort him to his car.” At once, there was a flurry of action, the way was cleared, and soon I was with him exchanging notes as we drove to Jai Vilas Palace.

Scindia’s respect for journalists gets amply reflected by this one anecdote. Just prior to his demise – during his last visit to Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh, he had held a press conference at Noor-us-Sabah Palace Hotel at short notice. I came to know of it rather too late but still, I drove to the hotel hoping to catch some action but on arrival found that the media-persons were already leaving the venue. On the stairs at the entrance, I met the then State Minister late Mahendra Singh Kalukheda and explored the possibility of meeting Scindia but he dismissed the idea saying that “Maharaj” was in his room with clear instructions to him that he should not be disturbed for the next one hour. When one persisted and told him to convey the message to Mr. Scindia that it was I who wanted to meet him, Kalukheda reluctantly took the flight of stairs and asking me to wait outside, knocked and entered his suite. Within no time, Scindia had come out, we exchanged greetings and the next one hour sat discussing politics and what not. I remember telling him that day that he should be in Bhopal more often. He had responded by telling me that he shall follow my advice…..But the harsh reality – who knew, we were meeting for the last time that afternoon.

Postscript: October 4, 2001: Country’s top political leadership, friends, relatives, industrialists, heads of former princely states and thousands of admirers were there. The porch of the Scindia’s Palace was crowded and people in thousands were inching forward to pay their last respect to late Madhavrao Scindia. Rajdeep Sardesai, who was representing NDTV, wanted to squeeze out a political story even at that moment. He stole the opportunity to ask Jyotiraditya Scindia whether or not he will fill the Guna Lok sabha seat that had fallen vacant. Immediately the then chief minister Digvijay Singh had to intervene. He told Rajdeep “this is no time or place to ask such a question.”

The author, Lalit Shastri, is Editor-in-Chief


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